England Estate Records, Estate Maps, Building Plans (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Estate Maps and Records[edit | edit source]

An estate map is a large-scale plan of the property of a single land-owner, whether of one farm or the vast lands of the wealthy. In mediaeval times estate surveys were usually presented in written form, but from the late 16th century surveyors were employed to periodically map the estates of more prominent land-owners. With maps the land-owner could plot enclosures and subdivisions, and boundary disputes and legal battles over land could be settled. Private estate mapping continued and overlapped the arrival of the large-scale (25") Ordnance Survey maps in the 1870s. Early estate maps pre-date enclosure and tithe maps, and are therefore unique; a large land-owner may hold a whole parish and his estate records describe the whole community. Surveys of estates were very often done when they changed hands so that the new owner knew exactly what it comprised. Some land-owners paid for an extra copy of the tithe map (1838-1854) to be made for their own use as an estate map, this being a much less expensive alternative.

Estate maps were drawn to a much larger scale and show fields more accurately than the general approximations on late 18th century county maps. The accompanying books of reference called estate terriers often list tenants names and acreages and perhaps the terms of their leaseholds, but do not always link them to specific estate property like the tithe maps do.

Most estate plans were in colour but ignore relief and the details of adjoining estates. They depict the owner’s and other major houses on his estate, nearby churches, court house, inns, almshouses, barns, and the school. Some include details of building materials such as whether the roofs were tiled or thatched and which windows had glass. Included will be industrial sites such as forges, furnaces, glasshouses, brick and lime kilns, chalk, sand, stone, marl and gravel pits, tanyards and saltings, and the ubiquitous mills (wind, water and tide, fulling, corn and paper).

Waterways were noted because they were important for drinking water, transport, power and as boundaries. All local communication routes down to the smallest lanes, droveways, tracks and bridlepaths, plus the toll bars, fords, bridges and ferries are shown and thus provide an unequalled picture of your ancestors’ surroundings. The maps vary considerably in extent, scale, size, content, detail and ornament, some being decorated with local scenes, wildlife and heraldry.

The map below shows an estate map from Chelmsford, Essex and other styles are depicted by Paul Hindle.

Estate Map Showing Stylized Buildings
(Walker 1591 Chelmsford, Essex)

This is somewhat between a plan and a view, having stylized depictions of the buildings.

Estate Map Showing Stylized Buildings7P.jpg


Finding Estate Maps[edit | edit source]

Estate records are private documents, of-course, and finding and getting access to them can be a problem. They will be amongst the estate papers of the families who were the village’s principal land-owners. These could be stored with the family muniments, or by the family solicitor, or deposited with a county archives (not necessarily the one in which the village sits as estates often covered parts of different counties and the whole collection would be kept together), or have been deposited at TNA. Archives list them by parish and can tell you where they are located if they don’t have them on hand. Many estate photographic copies have been added to a local archive collection.

F. G. Emmison estimated there to be over 20,000 pre-1850 private estate maps in record repositories in 1966 (Harley 1972) and Hindle’s figure in 1998 is 30,000; more are being unearthed all the time. About one tenth of them cover whole parishes, the rest only fragments of one or more parishes, however there are many parishes that have no estate maps. Although most estate maps are rural in nature there are some for industrial areas, for example the mining districts of Cornwall, Northumberland and Derbyshire. A variety of examples of estate maps and other records include:

  • Kent Archives Office, Canterbury Branch has published aCatalogue of Estate Maps 1590-1840 which has been fiched.
  • A notable estate comprising lands in several counties is that of the Earls (now Dukes) of Devonshire who live at Chatsworth, Derbyshire. The surveyor’s records are the subject of a book by Fowkes and Potter (William Senior’s Survey of the Estates of the 1st and 2nd Earl’s of Devonshire c1600-1628, 1988) which includes maps and names of tenants with details of their leases.
  • A plan of a freehold estate situated at Lewisham belonging to Mary Edmunds and William Willcox Teete, containing in the whole 2 acres... manuscript plan, hand coloured on stiff paper backed with linen, scale 4" to 100ft, adjoining owners named… signed by parties concerned… slightly dusty Dec 30th 1865. Noted for sale at this website.
  • Geraldine Beech(Maps for Genealogy and Local History, 1987) has interesting comments on estate maps of the London area, Cumberland, and Northumberland at TNA.
  • Jean Chapple, A Country Estate, has written about life as a labourer on an estate.
  • R.D. Armitage(An Introduction to People of Property, 1999) wrote about 14 families who lived on large estates (all now National Trust properties), about the buildings and way of life of owners and their employees with diversions into all kinds of interesting topics such as icehouses and dovecotes.

Building Plans[edit | edit source]

Local authorities have had the power to control the construction of buildings since at least the early 18th century, and have been increasingly active in doing so since the 1830s when the link between public health and the state of buildings was recognized. Developers had to submit plans detailing the type of building material, thickness of walls, spaces between buildings, methods of construction, drains etc. for approval. A copy of the plan was kept by the local council and an indexed register drawn up for the many thousands of them that accumulated.

Building plans can give the family historian very precise details about public buildings, commercial and industrial development, standards of working class housing, even for buildings demolished long ago. The physical appearance of Victorian towns and the work of local builders can be reconstructed in more detail than from contemporary photographs, if indeed the latter exist at all.

To locate appropriate material the county archives should be contacted first of all, and the researcher should be prepared for plans that are stored in musty attics and cellars in various sites. The present keepers of the plans may not be convinced of their historical value so persistence is necessary but potentially rewarding. Researchers in London should consult the huge Survey of London in 44 volumes (Bird and Norman) which has plans of streets, major buildings and dwellings together with their histories and occupants through the years. Cookson’s Short Guide is a useful reference.

Fire Insurance Plans[edit | edit source]

Fire insurance companies have been using their own unique maps for identifying fire risks of buildings for over 250 years. These very large-scale plans contain information on boundaries of buildings, number of stories, position of skylights, construction materials and a wealth of other practical information. They can give a good impression of working conditions. At first each fire insurance company drew up their own plans but from 1886 to 1970 the firm of Charles E. Goad Ltd supplied them to all companies, usually at the scale of 1:480 (1 inch to 40 feet).

A set of Goad’s plans for most of the important towns and cities of the British Isles is at the British Library on microfilm and indexed, thus copies can be requested. Further information and an example are at their website.

The Guildhall Library has the plans for the City of London for a selection of dates.

Estate Records[edit | edit source]

Large landowners accumulated a number of documents concerning both evidence of title and administration of their lands. The estate owner might be an individual, a family, church, university, college, charity, corporation, county council and so forth. Surveys can give so much detail about the tenants and employees as well as the owners.

An 1851 survey of Sir Richard Tufton’s estate, Bloors Place, Lower Rainham, Kent describes the house rooms and all the outbuildings in some detail. It then goes on to make comments on the fields, and that the tenant, William Smart was highly respectable andfrom the appearance of his farm, stock, etc. a man of substantial property (Holley).

Keith R. Giles (Estate Papers and Genealogy. Family Tree Magazine Vol 13 #5, page 58.)
recounts fascinating experiences looking at estate papers in Cheshire which included wage books, tenant listings, deeds, boxes of letters, game books and estate diaries from the 11th to the 19th centuries. Ancestors are found haymaking, mowing thistles, poaching, being evicted for non-payment of rent and other daily duties and mishaps. Anthony J. Camp cites estate rentals and labour books showing how a sub-tenant moved up to become a tenant, then became a parkman living in the lodge, and finally retired to an estate cottage.

The accounts survive for the Lodge in Richmond, Surrey and show wages and expenses of all the domestic and outdoor staff. The reference to the late Queen must refer to George II’s wife Caroline who died in 1737.

Chart: Richmond Lodge Accounts 1750

An Account of One Quarter’s Allowance to Several Servants Belonging to Her Late Majesty’s Lodge at Richmond, Which became Due at Christmas 1750; Of Rents to Several Persons for Houses and Lands at Kew and Richmond; And, Also of Several Incidental Bills Relating to the Said Lodge.[selected entries] FHL film 00800462


Mrs Eliz: Powell housekeeper, for herself and servants 25. 0.0
Ditto for pails, mops, brooms, and several other
contingent charges 7.10.0
Mrs Amy Duck, housekeeper at Kew 7.10.0
Mr Thomas Greening junr for keeping the farm 50. 0.0
Ditto for the mole catcher 2.10.0
Ditto for keeping the kitchen garden 52.10.0
Ditto for taking care of that part of the Menagery
where the fruit trees grow 3. 0.0
Mary Turner dairymaid; 6.11.0
John Gray for keeping the engines in repair 1. 7.6
Charles Scott, corn for the game 29.18.6
Robert Soule park-keeper for keeping dogs etc 8.15.6
Mary Hart for looking after the cows 2. 7.0
Rat catcher 3. 0.0
Kemble Whatley carpenter 30. 5.1
Francis Vallotton, keeper of Her Late Majesty’s library 8.18.6


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.